WASHINGTON — As House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden seek a deal to raise the debt ceiling, Republican demands to impose stricter work requirements for federal aid programs have become an obstacle to reaching a consensus.
The debt ceiling bill that House Republicans passed last month, which was negotiated among GOP members and passed along party lines, would expand work requirements for some federal aid programs , including Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a program that provides help with food. . The proposal has provoked a backlash from many Democrats who oppose such provisions.
But while Biden has said that cuts to federal aid that could push people into poverty are off the table, he has also signaled that he may be open to some limited concessions on work requirements to reach a spending deal. .
Biden told reporters Sunday that he «voted for tougher relief programs» when he was a senator. «That’s in the law now,» he said. «But for Medicaid, it’s a different story.»
McCarthy, a California Republican, who said including job requirements is a red line in the talks, declined to discuss the details after Tuesday’s meeting.
“I am not going to negotiate with all of you. We know where we have to go,” she said. The Republican-backed proposal had required intraparty negotiations, and the details were a point of contention.
But the tougher job requirements won’t work for many Democrats.
It’s “a start for me,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” arguing that the cuts are damaging and ineffective. “Labor requirements don’t make people work more. What it does is deprive the people who need the help. It’s just cruel.»
The House Republican bill would require states to implement work requirements for some people in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people. It would also require able-bodied adults up to age 55 to work a minimum of 20 hours per week or meet other criteria to get SNAP benefits for more than three months every three years.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it was not possible to reach an agreement on such a contentious issue in such a short period of time; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a letter Monday that the United States could exceed the debt ceiling as soon as June 1.
«How are you going to solve that? How are you going to solve such a complicated problem, affecting so many lives, in seven to 10 days?» Murphy said. «It just feels impossible.»
White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa noted in a statement that Biden has supported job requirements for federal aid programs in the past.
“The cash assistance work requirements that the president voted for in the 1990s remain law today,” Kikukawa said. “As the President said, Medicaid is a different story, and the President has been clear that he will not accept proposals that take away people’s health coverage. The president has also made it clear that he will not accept policies that push Americans into poverty.»
Kikukawa added: «He will evaluate any proposal that the Republicans bring to the table based on those principles.»
Biden took a tougher line against momentum Monday when he appeared to rule out changes to SNAP, tweeting that the Republicans were threatening food aid for the elderly.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has thrown cold water on the tougher work requirements, saying they are already law for most federal programs.
“I know it’s raw meat for Republicans to talk about ‘welfare queens’ and the like, but the reality is that when we’re talking about kids getting food stamps to survive, the job requirements don’t make any sense. Durbin said Tuesday. «To make this the central point of our negotiation to sink the American economy is ridiculous.»
Other Democrats have opposed the idea of job requirements, including Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania.
“SNAP already has work requirements. I did not come here to take away food from hungry children, and that is exactly what this proposal would do; a proposition that would make Scrooge blush.» Fetterman said on Twitter, referring to the House Republican plan. «I have never met a SNAP recipient who aspires to stay on SNAP for life.»
House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, did not say Tuesday whether the tougher job requirements are a red line for him.
«I don’t know. I think they’re very important. I think our position is eminently reasonable,» Cole said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he supports the House-passed bill and its job requirements.
«I think it’s reasonable,» he said Tuesday. «And apparently the president annoyed part of the progressive base.. … So I think that’s part of the deal.»